A SUPPLEMENT TO
When you know the patterns of the
press, you can exploit them.
When you know how bloggers think,
you can co-opt their instincts to your
That is what I do for a living.
I am a media manipulator.
“We play by their rules long enough
and it becomes our game.”
— ORSON SCOTT CARD, ENDER’S GAME
BLOGS NEED REPORTERS
MORE TRAFFIC POPULARIZE BLOGS
BLOGS MAKE THE NEWS
Blogs drive our media cycle. TV and Radio reporters once
ﬁlled their broadcasts with newspaper headlines, today they
repeat what they read on blogs—certain blogs more than
I’m talking about sites like: Gawker, Business Insider, Politico,
BuzzFeed, Hufﬁngton Post, Drudge Report.
You may not read all these sites, but the media elite
does. So their news becomes our news.
A TACTICAL RESPONSE
In the following pages I am going to share my secrets to manipulating and controlling
blogs. To say they have worked for me in the past would be an understatement. These
tactics are directly responsible for millions of media impressions for my clients, stories
everywhere from the New York Times to TMZ, and now a six-ﬁgure book deal.
Every one of following nine tactics exploits a critical vulnerability (or opportunity) in
our media system. I will show you where they are, what can be done with them, and
help you recognize when they’re being used on you.
You may not believe it, but I ultimately intend these revelations as criticism. It cannot be
said to be a good thing that a marketer can turn nothing into national news with only
a few simple tricks. But the fact is: they can. I have. My aim in exposing all this is
change. Until then, the system is yours to abuse. Have fun…but beware.
I BLOGGERS ARE POOR; HELP PAY THEIR BILLS
Incentives matter, exploit them. Bloggers don’t make much money, and when they do,
they’re paid by the pageview. The tactic is simple: inﬂuence bloggers by dangling
pageviews in front of them. Give them a story that will generate pageviews (true,
worthwhile or not)—and you’ve handed them money. Actually, you did even better.
You bribed without leaving a papertrail.
That doesn’t mean that free products, samples, advertising deals and connections
aren’t incredibly effective too. The line between editorial and business at a blog is
blurred—how could it not be? Sometimes there is only one employee (they’re the
writer, ad sales head and owner).
Critics call blogging a “digital sweatshop” for a good reason. “Ceaseless ﬁght for
table scraps” might be another phrase for it. For my part, I’ve lost track of the
bloggers whose names I have helped make by giving them big stories and story beats
(favorable and to my liking). They turned this attention from gigs at small blogs to
editorships and staff jobs at major newspapers. I invested early and bought my
inﬂuence cheap. Do the same.
II TELL THEM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR
Blogs have to publish dozens of stories a day. The online-driven news cycle is going a
million miles a minute from a million directions. No one has the time—or the motivation
—to vet their sources the way that media once did. This weak point is your opportunity:
become a source for a story on a blog, which in turn becomes the source for serious
Once during a lawsuit I needed to get some information into the public discussion, so I
dashed off a fake internal memo, printed it out, scanned it, and sent the ﬁle to a bunch
of blogs as if I were an employee leaking conﬁdential materials. The same bloggers
who were uninterested before, now gladly wrote about it because it was
“EXCLUSIVE!” and “LEAKED!” Through HelpAReporterOut.com (HARO), I’ve been
able to get my name in stories everywhere from ABC News to Reuters to the Today
Show. Sometimes I don’t even do it myself. I just have an assistant pretend to be me
over e-mail or on the phone.
Blogs are desperate for sources and material, so offer to be that source. They’ll take
anything from anyone—unsolicited, untraced e-mails or angry comments pulled from
comments sections, or even clearly self-interested “tips.” I know, because I have been
this kind of source dozens of times. Just Google my name.
III GIVE THEM WHAT SPREADS, NOT WHAT’S GOOD
As MIT media studies professor Henry Jenkins tells publishers: “if it doesn’t spread, it’s
dead.” When your job is to advance narratives in the media, the ﬂip side of this is
equally straightforward: If it spreads, you’re golden. So give blogs something that
spreads—anything else is futile.
I design what I sell to bloggers based on what I know (and they think) will spread. I
give them what they believe will go viral online—and make them money. Of course that
means distorting the news, pandering to extremes, and leaving out pesky “realities. As
Jonah Peretti, the virality expert behind the founding of both the Hufﬁngton Post and
BuzzFeed believes, “if something is a total bummer, people don’t share it.”
A quick hint on what spreads: a Wharton School study on which New York Times
articles spread the most concluded—“the most powerful predictor of virality is how
much anger an article evokes.” Make people angry. It works. Better, make them
angry and turned on. Why else do you think I run ads of naked American Apparel
models all over conservative blogs?
IV HELP THEM TRICK THEIR READERS
Brian Moylan, a Gawker writer, once bragged, the key to a successful blog headline is
to “get the whole story into the headline but leave out just enough that people will
want to click.” Sure, it’s tricking but that’s the whole business model: trick readers to
Remember Myspace? There was a reason the login process made you load like 10
pages. A click is a click and a pageview is a pageview. Sites don’t care how they get
it. Their bosses don’t care. They just want it. And they’re good at it. Nate Silver once
analyzed a slate of articles on the Hufﬁngton Post. Articles by normal contributors did
an average of 43 comments a piece. Article by paid Hufﬁngton Post professions did
800 comments per article. Comment baiting = pageviews.
When I want Gawker or other blogs to write about my clients I intentionally exploit
their ambivalence about deceiving people. When I give them facts, I leave room for
them to speculate by not fully explaining everything. If I am creating the story as a
fake tipster, I ask a lot of rhetorical questions: Could [some preposterous misreading of
the situation] be what’s going on? Do you think that [juicy scandal] is what they’re
hiding? And then I watch as the writers pose those very same questions to their
readers in a click-friendly headline. The answer to my questions is obviously “No, of
course not,” but I play the skeptic about my own clients—even going so far as to say
nasty things—so the bloggers will do it on the front page of their site. I trick the
bloggers, and they trick their readers.
V SELL THEM SOMETHING THEY CAN SELL
EXPLOIT THE ONE-OFF PROBLEM
We think of newspapers as being sold by subscription, but if you remember, they used
to be sold on the street corner by newsboys. Those were the days of yellow journalism
—newsboys outshouting each other with extreme [made up] headlines to sell a few
more copies than the competition.
This is exactly the same position blogs are in today. People don’t read one blog. They
read a constant assortment of many different blogs, and so there is little incentive to
build trust. Publishers are right back to the [digital] street corner, yelling, “War Is
Coming!” to sell every article. Even if that war needs to be manufactured to do it.
Making up the news is hard, so blogs are ﬁne with manipulators like me easing their
burden, just like the yellow papers were. Instead of being a 19th-century press agent
manipulating newspapers, I am a 21st-century press agent manipulating blogs. The
tactics are the same, but I ply my trade with more inﬂuence, less oversight, and faster
results than ever imagined. It’s a different century but reporters want the same thing:
scandals, controversy, humor, sex and conﬂict. Give it to them.
VI MAKE IT ALL ABOUT THE HEADLINE
Blogs have to sell every article to a new audience—because really, when was the last
time anyone read HufﬁngtonPost.com? No, we click the articles that catch our
attention, wherever they are. Increasingly, blogs scramble for attention on places like
Twitter and Google News, a crowded environment not all that different from a
newsboy’s busy street corner. As Gabriel Snyder, of TheAtlantic.com, put it: headlines
are “naked little creatures that have to go out into the world to stand and ﬁght on their
own.” They’re so desperate to win this ﬁght, they don’t care if the article is true.
The lesson is simple: if they can put a good headline on it, blogs will publish anything.
Like the yellow papers a century ago, they love exaggeration and lies and bogus tags
like EXCLUSIVE, EXTRA, UNPRECEDENTED* and PHOTOS in the requisite CAPITAL
LETTERS. They love silly questions like: “Is Donald Trump a Rapist?” (It’s a question,
not an accusation, see?) And celebrity and sex and absurdity. So give it to them and
the world is yours for the taking.
You make up the news; blogs make up the headline. Everyone but the reader wins!
VII KILL ‘EM WITH PAGEVIEW KINDNESS
The best way for bloggers to get pageviews is to write about things that get
pageviews. Trending topics and Most Read/Most Popular lists are like a compass for
bloggers, telling them what stories to gravitate towards. Mess with the magnet inside
the compass and watch as its owner goes wildly off track (or better, exactly in the
direction you want them to go)
Connect your story to a celebrity, to a search-engine friendly terms, show that other
blogs are covering the topic. Blogs rush to copy each other because they think there is
trafﬁc in it. Get a story on a blog that shows how many views its posts do (like Gawker
and Forbes)? Spike that number through paid trafﬁc on StumbleUpon or Outbrain.
Watch how “interesting” that story suddenly appears to places like the Business
Remember, some bloggers have to churn out as many as a dozen posts a day. Not
every story is intended to be a home run—a collection of singles, doubles, and triples
adds up too. Give blogs something solid and they’re more than happy to write about
it. It makes their day that much easier. Pageview journalism is about scale. Sites have
to publish multiple stories every few minutes to make a proﬁt, and why shouldn’t your
story be one of them?
VIII USE THE TECHNOLOGY AGAINST ITSELF
Blogs are like every other medium: the way the platform works determines what
bloggers can publish and how exactly they must do it. To know what the medium
demands of bloggers is to be able to predict, and then co-opt, how they act.
Why do blogs constantly chase new stories? Why do they update so much? Why are
posts so short? A look at their development makes it clear: Bloggers don’t have a
choice. Om Malik of GigaOM published nearly 3 posts a day every day for 10 years.
It’s no surprise that his average post was 215 words. It wasn’t humanly possible to
write anything longer.
When Nick Denton of Gawker says that “any good idea” can be expressed in a 100
word post or less, he presents manipulators with an awesome opportunity. No need to
worry about complex concepts, blogs only have time for the simple, sensational and
shocking. Blogs can—economically and structurally—only see the world in one way: the
way of the 5 minute blog post. Your job is to translate (or distort) your agenda into
those terms. Do it well and they’ll eat it up. They certainly don’t have time to fact
check, not when they’ve got 10 more posts to write before the end of the day.
IX JUST MAKE STUFF UP
EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT
Blog posts need an angle. Something that will catch attention and spread. Since
bloggers must ﬁnd an angle, they always do. Small news is made to look like big
news. Nonexistent news is puffed up and made into news. As veteran bloggers John
Biggs and Charlie White put it in their book Bloggers Boot Camp, “no topic is too
mundane that you can’t pull a post out of it.”
This is their logic. As a marketer, it’s easy to fall in love with it. All you have to do is
tell a blog that the story you’ve giving them is an “exclusive” and they’ll fall all over
themselves to publish it. Attach a couple photos to your story and they’ll turn it into a
slideshow. Turn an everyday occurrence into “breaking news” and they’re happy to
go along with the charade. None of it has to be real, fair, or in good taste. Blogs
don’t care, why should you?
This is a world where the news is deliberately misread by bloggers in order to get a
couple extra pageviews. People are needlessly turned against each other to create
controversy and conﬂict (and the rabid comments that go along with it). Bloggers
publish ﬁrst and fact check second—so they can get two posts out of the story instead
of one. That’s the game that’s being played against you and your company right now.
Learn to play it back or the joke will solely be on you.
“Most crucially, that machine, whether it churns
through social media or television appearances,
doesn’t reward bipartisanship or deal making; it
rewards the easily retweetable or sound bite–
ready statement, the more outrageous the better.”
— IRIN CARMON, JEZEBEL
You may have trouble swallowing some of these tactics or shudder at
my bluntness about them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real. They are,
and they’re being used to create and inﬂuence the news right now,
even as you read this.
Some of you will take these tactics and put them to use immediately. So
be it. Others, I hope will be repulsed enough to begin to institute
change. Hopefully bloggers will read this and come to the realization I
have: We’re all media manipulators. Publicists and bloggers and
journalists have all been playing the same game: get attention at all
It’s a dangerous game. You may think that because you’re the one
feeding the monster, you are in control.
Well, you’re not. Trust Me, I’m Not Lying.
WHO IS RYAN HOLIDAY?
Ryan Holiday is media strategist for notorious clients like Tucker
Max and Dov Charney. After dropping out of college at 19 to
apprentice under renowned strategist!Robert Greene, he went on to
advise many bestselling authors and multi-platinum musicians. He is
the Director of Marketing at American Apparel, where his work in
advertising was internationally known. His strategies are used as
case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and have been written
about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.
He currently lives in New Orleans.
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